When a butterfly becomes a dove…

In case you’re wondering if I perhaps missed a key class in school regarding the evolution of insects, I am aware that butterflies don’t actually turn into doves. That is, unless you’re my daughter.

Last Tuesday Ellie wrapped up her first year of preschool. It’s pretty hard to believe since it feels like yesterday that I was feeling sooo anxious about her first day of preschool.  It also feels like yesterday that her response to any question you asked was a demure “o-kay” and she was still nursing her nightly bottle. My easy two-year-old of yesterday has turned into a leggy force to be reckoned with three-year-old and today, she officially became a dove.

I had been feeling very apprehensive about the approaching end of her first year in the butterfly class. Her butterfly teachers were extraordinary. One teacher in particular – Teacher Robb as we all called him – truly  redefined my expectations for everything a teacher could be. And, I was not alone. Parents were throwing around phrases such as the “toddler whisperer” with reference to him and at one point during the year, all of the parents rallied to try and get Teacher Robb to move ahead with the Butterfly class. There are many cases to be made for keeping a teacher with the same class – or looping, as the official term goes – and Robb made a lot of those arguments, but for us parents, we just knew that our children were all tremendously attached to this wonderful kind smart man and given an unusual year of vacated teaching positions at the school, we hoped we could request one more move.

Anyhow, it didn’ t happen and I’ve mostly gotten over it (as you can tell) but it still smarts a little. The thing is, I, too, was attached to Teacher Robb. This same fellow who I was suspicious of at our initial parent gathering (Why would a man be teaching preschool? Why does he keep looking down? Why isn’t he smiling more? ), proved to me once again that first impressions can often be uninformed impressions. This teacher was so incredible smart, calm, nuturing, and engaged with each and every one of those 2-3 year olds in my daughter’s class AND the parents. Basically, he was AMAZING. (There I go again…no, really, I’m over it!)

On Ellie’s last day of school I did my best to be upbeat and positive about her move to the Dove room (the 3-4 year old classroom). As I was driving to the 5:30pm pick up to gather my child and all of her things from the Butterfly room for the last time, I had lots of internal dialogue with myself about how I wasn’t going to cry. There was no reason to cry after all since Ellie was only moving DOWN THE HALL. But, I knew, just as I’d witnessed all year, that behind the door of each classroom’s entrance is a special world – a unique environment created by the teachers. And, I hoped that as excited Ellie was about becoming a Dove, that she wouldn’t be missing that special former place too much.

The goodbye was not easy. In fact, to overcompensate for my propensity toward tears, I started asking questions such as “How did the last day go?”.  When he immediately told me that there were tears, I thought, “oh please don’t let there be tears.” I kept trying to act as if it were like any other day, any other regular pick up, until Teacher Robb in all his 6 ft. stature after deciding he’d fielded enough of my questions, came over to me, put his arms around me and said “Thanks so much for a wonderful year. Please keep in touch and let me know how Ellie is doing.” All I could get out was “Thank you. You know how I feel and I can’t really talk about it or…” and with that my eyes welled up with tears and I turned away while another teacher standing by looked at me with that “awwwww” face and I pulled it together. After all, this was ELLIE’S last day, not mine. For god’s sake, as the Mom, I’ve got to keep it together, right?

Ellie was cool as a cucumber EXCEPT I could NOT get her to leave the classrooom. She was working away on some artwork and refused to leave until she finished. He suggested that perhaps she was having a hard time leaving. That’s the thing about three year olds, they can’t really tell you how they’re feeling all the time and so you have to infer from their actions what’s going on. Eventually, she was the only Butterfly remaining and Teacher Robb told her that she could take home the two markers she was using and offered her one last “ride” to the door.  He had used this tactic on occasion over the year when Ellie didn’t want to say goodbye. He’d say “Do you want to fly to Mom?” And, he’d pick her up and fly her in the air to me outside by our car or into her car seat. This time, he flew her to the door and into my arms and we began to make our way down the hallway when she said “Oh, oh oh!” as if she forgot something. She swung open the Butterfly door one last time and ran in to give Teacher Robb one last hug which he eagerly accepted.

Flash forward and here we are, 3 days into Ellie’s first week as a Dove.  My guilt is at an all-time high about leaving her there all day. Previously, when I’d bring her into the Butterfly class in the morning, one of her teachers upon seeing us would say “Ellie!” and would ALWAYS be on hand to give Ellie a hug or pick her up when she was especially clingy to help assist with the goodbye. One of our recent rituals involved Ellie giving me a big PUSH out of the classroom – a way for her to feel as if she was CHOOSING for me to leave. Even if we both knew the truth, it worked pretty well. Somedays, when Ellie was having a particularly difficult time parting, one of the teachers would walk her to a window in another classroom so that I could wave goodbye to her on the way out. All of these special touches made me feel really comfortable about having to leave for work.

Now?

I escort her into the Dove classroom in the morning and the teachers barely look up. There is no special welcome, no gregarious “Ellie!” and certainly no hugs.  I  know she’s moved to the “big girl” classroom but geez, she is still ONLY 3 after all! And, it’s been so hard for me to say goodbye to her in the mornings.

She, however, seems mostly fine with this change. She has, however,  been especially difficult this week which I chalk up to the change and I keep trying to talk with her about it. I’ve tried to be much more patient with her outbursts and defiance, assuming that she has to work all day to be the “big girl” and just wants to let loose when she gets home.

I know it’s taking time for me to adjust. I figure it will be at least a couple of weeks before I stop longing for the old classroom, the old teachers, the old ways.  I imagine it will take Ellie at least as long.

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